Chris hiking up the incredible stonework to Hungry Packer Lake; crossing the creek at Dingleberry Lake; Picture Peak - Elphinston Buttress follows the thin edge visible in the middle of the face.
The warm temps overnight had kept the final snowfield from getting too hard, so we were able to kick steps and pat ourselves on the back for not bringing crampons and ice axes. Yeah team. Secor's description didn't give us a lot of beta:
"This route climbs the prominent northeast buttress. Approach the toe of the buttress from the south shore of Hungray Packer Lake. Follow the buttress to the summit. The crux is about halfway up, where a thin crack leads to a slight overhang."
|Elphinston Buttress started in cracks on the sunny face.|
|Chris leading Pitch 1. This was the last photo we took on the trip.|
I woke up hanging up-side down, vaguely remembering a warm, pleasant dream, but still in a lot of pain. My 10-scale for pain, where the nurse asks you to rate it on a 1-10, had just been reset. I'd never been in so much pain before that I blacked out. I puked in pain when I shattered my leg in 2002, but at least I had stayed conscious. Now the pain kept ripping control of my breath away from me. I finally managed to yell loud enough for Chris to hear me.
That's all I could manage. Chris rigged a 5:1 and started half/hauling me while I tried to half/scramble up the 4th class terrain in the corner. When the corner reached vertical, I had to sit back and let Chris do the work. I began to get nauseous from the pain and thought I was going to pass out again, so I rigged a chest harness for myself just in case.
When Chris finally got me to the anchor, he did a quick assessment of me. My heals and right palm were already bruising, and my back, from between shoulder blades down to my lumbar, felt like it was an over-tightened corset. I couldn't help but breath short, fast, hard breaths from the pain. Chris pulled out the cell phone - but no signal. We both knew that something could be very wrong with me and we could do nothing about it. I kept picturing Steve House's desciption of his lungs collapsing after a fall in the Canadian Rockies earlier this spring. If I was facing that, or if I had ruptured something, there was nothing we could do. So we decided to keep moving. Before we took off, I typed in a text message for Patsy and saved it, knowing that if it was sent out that things had turned Bad.
Trying to rappel looked scary - every way was going to suck us down into gullies filled with incredibly loose blocks. So Chris decided to continue up, hauling me through anything much harder that 5.2. We hoped to either top out and start walking down the 3rd class SW Slopes, or gain a cell signal and call for help, or both. Four pitches and three hours later Chris down-climbed, convinced that there were too many loose blocks on the pitch to haul me through. We had tried to place a call at every pitch without any luck. We had to go down. We were still concerned for my health, but convinced that anything immediately life-threatening wasn't going to happen. Rappelling was easier, because I could keep my back straight and my arms down by my sides. I practiced taking deep, slow breaths.
It had taken us 2:45 to hike the 6 miles and 2500' elevation. It took us 4:45 to hike out. I put my headphones on, cranked the volume up, and put my head down. Chris followed along behind me, with all of our kit towering over his shoulders. When it got dark, we turned on our headlamps. By the time we reached Bishop, Chris had been rescuing me for 13 hours. It was 11:00pm, and we had left our bivy at 5:15am. My accident was around 9:30-10:00am.
I was too exhausted to deal with the hospital, so I went home and told the story to my room mates. Vic had some Vicodin that took the edge of the discomfort, and I went to bed. Friday morning I managed to get up, with spikes of pain running up and down my back, took a shower and went to the ER. But I was pretty sure that nothing was really damaged. I had a series of x-rays taken that confirmed that, and I walked out with a prescription for Vicodin, Flexeril, and a diagnosis of "Thoracic Spinal Contusions."
So now I'm sitting around the house, watching way to much TV, trying to pace my appetite, and not get to overwhelmed with not being able to do anything. I did go up yesterday with some friends to June Lake to cheer for Annie Trujillo, who ran her first triathlon today. I feel better tonight than I did 24 hours ago. And I expect to feel better in another 24 hours too.
In hindsight, Chris could have warned me about the potential for the pendulum. And I should have simply aided through the finish of that pitch. I am extraordinarily lucky that I impacted the corner as I did. Anything else would have broken bones. Or worse. A lot worse. But Chris rescued me - no doubt about that either. I only know a handful of people I can trust like I trusted Chris to pull me out of this. And he did it.
Another lesson learned - I have to take training more seriously. If I was a stronger climber, I could have moved right through this without any incident. But I haven't taken training seriously since last fall. This is a lesson I could have paid a lot more for.